HC Deb 06 June 1849 vol 105 cc1250-5

The Order of the Day for the Third Reading of this Bill having been read,


said, that he should regret that the Bill should be said to have passed with his concurrence, as he believed its effect would be most injurious, and, if passed, they might as well shut up the courts of justice at once. In every civil case, the parties to any proceeding were entitled to have the best evidence they could get, given before the court on the most solemn veracity of the witness. If this measure were passed, any person might present himself who had possessed at one time a good character and a good half-crown, and deprive the parties of all the benefit of such evidence.

Main Question put, "That the Bill be now read the third time."

The House divided:—Ayes 73; Noes 51: Majority 22.

Bill read 3o.

On the Question that the Bill do pass,


complained of the haste and absence of discussion which had marked the progress of this Bill. He did not wish that it should go forth to the public that the vote which had just been given should be considered as the deliberate act of a full House, but that, owing to accidental circumstances, the passing of this Bill had been facilitated in a manner most extraordinary. If the principle of such a Bill as this was good, it tended directly to the abolition of all oaths; and the sooner that abolition took place the better, as to invite parties to take oaths, after oaths had been declared to be unnecessary, was to invite them to do that which might be almost considered a crime.


said, that this was a measure which struck at the root of testimony given in a court of justice. It not only went to relieve tender consciences from giving genuine and true testimony, but it carried with it the expression of the opinion of the House of Commons, that evidence given under a less solemn sanction than that of an oath, was entitled to equal faith with testimony on oath. He was satisfied that those who were concerned in the administration of public justice would feel that this was a blow struck at the very root of that administration. He hoped that it would not be so: but this he knew, that the most hardened criminals had often shrunk from giving that testimony on oath which might have relieved their companions in the dock from the consequences of a conviction. He well knew the effect produced upon witnesses when they were reminded that they were speaking under the solemn obligation of an oath. He had himself frequently seen the difference of demeanour which such reminding had upon the witnesses in the box. If the person to be exempted from an oath were a Dissenter, a Separatist, or a Quaker, well and good; that was done, and could not now be undone; but here the person to be excused was a person professing to belong to the Church of England, who, if he consulted the pastor of his own church, would be told that it was not only not according to his duty, but that it positively was his duty, in matters affecting the discharge of public justice, to pledge his veracity upon the solemnity of an oath. What would be the practical effect of the measure? As often as a person thought he might be called as a witness, and that much might depend on his evidence, he could give it in a much looser manner than tinder the solemn obligation of an oath. He might be reminded that a man's life might be taken upon the affirmation of a Quaker; but this was no reason why persons professing the faith of the Protestant Church should be sheltered by a certificate. Depend upon it, if they passed this Bill, appeals would be made to juries to ask whether they could place the same reliance on evidence given under the protection of a certificate, and that given under the obligation of an oath. He spoke on the experience of twenty years, and he implored of the House not to make this dangerous experiment.


opposed the passing of the measure. He spoke after considerable experience in the police courts of the city, and he knew the great effect that the oath had upon the lower class of witnesses especially. In some of the city courts there were two Testaments, one with a cross upon the back, and one without, and he had found, in a vast number of instances, that Roman Catholics would give evidence upon the Testament without the cross, but refused to do so when the Testament with the cross was handed to them. Holding these opinions, he had twice recorded his opinion against the passing of this measure, and if any division now took place, he would adopt a similar course.

Motion made and Question put, "That the Bill do pass."

The House divided:—Ayes 77; Noes 73: Majority 4.

List of the AYES.
Armstrong, R. B. Lewis, G. C.
Bagshaw, J. Maitland, T.
Baines, M. T. Marshall, W.
Bass, M. T. Matheson, Col.
Berkeley, hon. H. F. Milnes, R. M.
Berkeley, C. L. G. Mitchell, T. A.
Bernal, R. Moffatt, G.
Birch, Sir T. B. Monsoll, W.
Bouverie, hon. E. P. Mostyn, hon. E. M. L.
Bright, J. Mowatt, F.
Brotherton, J. Mullings, J. R.
Brown, W. Napier, J.
Bunbury, E. H. O'Connoll, M.
Buxton, Sir E. N. O'Flaherty, A.
Cavendish, hon. C. C. Ogle, S. C. H.
Clay, J. Perehell, Capt.
Clay, Sir W. Pilkington, J.
Clifford, H. M. Price, Sir R.
Cobden, R. Roche, E. B.
Colebrooke, Sir T. E. Scropo, G. P.
Crowder, R. B. Sheridan, R. B.
Davie, Sir H. R. F. Simeon, J.
D'Eyncourt, rt. hon. C. T. Smith, rt. hon. R. V.
Duncan, G. Smith, J. B.
Ellis, J. Stansfield, W. R. C.
Evans, W. Stuart, Lord D.
Fagan, W. Talfourd, Serj.
Foley, J. H. H. Thicknesse, R. A.
Fox, W. J. Thompson, Col.
Freestun, Col. Thompson, G.
Gibson, rt hon. T. M. Thornely, T.
Greene, J. Tollemache, hon. F. J.
Harris, R. Verncy, Sir H.
Heald, J. Villiers, hon. C.
Henry, A. Williams, J.
Hill, Lord M. Willyams, H.
Jervis, Sir J. Wilson, M.
Keogh, W. TELLERS.
Kershaw, J. Wood, P.
King, hon. P. J. L. Aglionby, H. A.
List of the NOES.
Arkwright, G. Hood, Sir A.
Baillie, H. J. Hornby, J.
Baldock, E. H. Houldsworth, T.
Barrington, Visct. Kerrison, Sir E.
Bennet, P. Lacy, H. C.
Bentinck, Lord H. Legh, G. C.
Beresford, W. Lewis, rt. hon. Sir T. F.
Blair, S. Lewisham, Visct.
Bremridge, R. Lowther, hon. Col.
Bromley, R. Lygon, hon. Gen.
Brooke, Lord Macnaghten, Sir E.
Brooke, Sir A. B. Mahon, Visct.
Bruce, C. L. C. Miles, W.
Buller, Sir J. Y. Moody, C. A.
Burke, Sir T. J. Mundy, W.
Burroughes, H. N. Newdegate, C. N.
Cocks, T. S. Nicholl, rt. hon. J.
Codrington, Sir W. Packe, C. W.
Coles, H. B. Pakington, Sir J.
Compton, H. C. Patten, J. W.
Deedes, W. Pennant, hon. Col.
Duncombe, hon. O. Plumptre, J. P.
Du Pre, C. G. Portal, M.
East, Sir J. B. Reid, Col.
Egerton, W. T. Robinson, G. R.
Estcourt, J. B. B. Sandars, G.
Farnham, E. B. Sandars, J.
Floyer, J. Spooner, R.
Frewen, C. H. Stanley, E.
Fuller, A. E. Trollope, Sir J.
Goring, C. Turner, G. J.
Goulburn, rt. hon. H. Waddington, H.
Gwyn, H. Wellesley, Lord C.
Hale, R. B. Wodehouse, E.
Hamilton, G. A. Young, Sir J.
Hayes, Sir E. TELLERS.
Heneage, G. H. W. Law, C. E.
Hill, Lord E. Sidney, Ald.

said, that from information which he had received, he had been led to believe that there had been an irregularity in the passage of the Affirmation Bill to the House of Lords. He had been informed by one of the officers of the House that the title of the Bill had not been distinctly agreed to, nor put as a substantive question from the chair. The question, "That this be the title of the Bill," was necessary to be put, as he submitted, in order to perfect it. Other business had since been introduced, and as that question had not been audibly put at the time, the Bill had been irregularly sent up to the House of Lords.


said, that he recollected putting the question that the Bill be carried to the House of Lords by Mr. Wood, and his impression was that he had previously put the question relating to the title of the Bill; but if not, the title of the Bill might be added now, its omission would not vitiate prior proceedings.


humbly submitted, that the question with respect to the title of the Bill was now out of order altogether, other business having intervened.


was of opinion, that if by any accident the question had not been put, the House should allow the Speaker to put it now. Of course, nobody would think of dividing on the matter.


had submitted to the chair, that it was the duty of those who had charge of the Bill, to see that the question respecting the title was put as a substantive Motion. As a question of precedent, he would suggest to the House that it would be dangerous to omit any question on which a debate might arise, or the sense of the House could be taken.


said, that the usual course was, that the question could first be put, "That this be the title of the Bill;" and then the question that it be carried to the House of Lords. If this Bill had been actually taken to the House of Lords, there might be a difficulty; but the order of the House to that effect had not been yet obeyed, and the Bill was consequently still in the hands of the House.


said, that the question depended upon what had fallen from the Speaker. If the title of the Bill had been put from the Chair, then there was an end of the matter; but if, unfortunately, by some inadvertence, this had not been done, then the point was as to whether or not a question had been omitted on which it was possible for the House to divide. It was desirable to know whether on the title of the Bill it was competent to take a division. He hoped, before the debate proceeded further, they would have the opinion of the Chair on this point.


said, that he understood the first question of the hon. and learned Member was, whether the title of the Bill would not be affected, as it had passed. He had replied that the last question had nothing to do with the title of the Bill. He really should have said, that his own impression was that he had put all the questions, and this was the opinion of the competent officers at the table. This question was almost a matter of course, and might have been put in a hurried manner. He recollected perfectly well putting the last question, as to the Bill being sent to the Lords, because he had the hon. and learned Member for Oxford in his eye at the time he put the question.


observed, that he was close to the chair at the time, and his own impression was that the Speaker did put the question; but he would not take his oath on the point.


considered, if there had been any inadvertence in this case, it was not a question which. touched the Gentleman who had charge of the Bill. The point was, as to the effect of an inadvertence in a mere formal question as to the title of the Bill. He had never seen a division on this question since he had been in Parliament. He would submit it to hon. Gentlemen who had opposed this Bill, whether they bonâ fide intended to take a division on that question; and if not, whether, from a more inadvertence, they would press their objection.


said, if it was admitted that there had been some inadvertence as to putting the question as to the title of the Bill, the matter would stand thus: an hon. Member had been directed to take the Bill to the Lords, but it had not yet left the House, and it had not been signed by the clerk, therefore it was not too late to put the title to it. His own impression still was, that he had put the question.


observed that he would not press the matter further.

Subject dropped.